ISSN 1535-7821
current issue    archives
Vol. 19 No. 4 2003

Link to ArticleNote From the Chair

Link to ArticleArticles

Link to ArticleEris Weaver on Health Literacy

Link to ArticleHousehold Products Database

Link to ArticleHealth Librarian on the Street – Trends in Consumer Health Libraries

Link to ArticleNews & Events

Link to ArticleStake Your Claim to Health Literacy - Symposium

Link to ArticlePublication Information

A Note From the Chair

CAPHIS Membership Campaign is Underway

Hi Everyone,

I am writing this open letter to personally invite you to join CAPHIS and become an active member of our Section.  If you are already a loyal member, I encourage you to renew your membership for 2004.  I want to also encourage you to be an active partner in our innovative and exciting Section. 

There are many wonderful CAPHIS activities taking place in 2004 that you can take advantage of.  We have so much to be proud of and you should benefit from some of the great things that CAPHIS does for its membership. 

First of all, CAPHIS will be honored guests at the MLA Annual Meeting’s elegant SwetsBlackwell reception.  This is an event you won’t want to miss.  The CAPHIS officers and board members will join me to welcome and recognize all our members, especially new ones.  If you become a member now, you will be automatically placed on the invitation list.  So act fast and sign up for membership.   

Did you know that CAPHIS is the second largest MLA Section?  We have over 650 members.  I personally find it beneficial to be part of such a large group to exchange information, meet with fellow colleagues who share similar challenges in their libraries, and to just meet new friends and colleagues. 

There are great opportunities to grow professionally by joining CAPHIS committees.  Our committees of energetic members work together as volunteers on special projects.  For example, we provide opportunities to work on committees with national impact, including the CAPHIS Top 100, Database Development, Communications, Consumer Connections Newsletter, Website, Bylaws, Nominating, Historical Project, and Website Task Force.  We hope your interest in CAPHIS will encourage you to serve on a committee or to run for office.  Members will find the Committee Application Form at:

Another benefit is publicizing your library and its services on the CAPHIS National Directory of Consumer Health Libraries. This database contains information about member libraries in the United States and from around the world. There are over 200 libraries in the database and it’s growing rapidly.  Members can list their libraries and provide pertinent information at:

Do you want to try adding publications to your resume? Well then, consider writing for CAPHIS.  You are invited to write articles for Consumer Connections (the CAPHIS newsletter), or you can work with the MLA CAPHIS Column editor to submit news clips to MLA News.   You might prefer to contribute book reviews to the Book Review section in Consumer Connections.  To become involved in these activities, go to our website’s “Committee Chairs and Appointed Officials” page and scan the list for contacts at:

Some additional benefits to membership include:

  • CAPHIS Discussion List - Connect with colleagues electronically for news, trends, ideas and advice.

  • Consumer Connections - Read our online newsletter for the latest consumer health librarianship.

This is a major portal to the best and latest health information for you and your library patrons.  The database links are authoritative and extensive.

  • Continuing Education - CAPHIS is an active sponsor of the MLA CE track for Consumer Health Librarians.  Several of our members serve as faculty. 

  • CAPHIS leaders participated in planning and were featured in the 2003 Satellite Conference on Health Information Literacy (see Eris Weaver’s op ed piece in this issue of Consumer Connections).  I had the pleasure of serving on the Planning Committee along with other CAPHIS members where we recommended two of our section members to serve on the teleconference panel.

I hope this message inspires you to become a member of CAPHIS, an exciting group of colleagues.  Personally, I have enjoyed the camaraderie and the opportunity to work and learn from so many talented librarians.  It has been rewarding for me as it will be for you, and I hope you decide to join us.  So when renewing your MLA membership, remember to check off the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section as part of your registration. It’s a great bargain for only $15.  If you’re joining via the Web, go to: and check CAPHIS in the Section listing.  You’ll be glad you did!


Naomi C. Broering, MLS, MA, FMLA

Chair, CAPHIS 2003-4


Eris Weaver on Health Literacy

Eris Weaver,  director, Redwood Health Library (Petaluma, CA) and presenter in the MLA’s “Reading Between the Lines,” was invited to share some thoughts on health literacy.

I had the pleasure of participating in the Medical Library Association (MLA) health literacy teleconference, Reading Between the Lines, on September 10th.  While I was ostensibly there as an instructor, I sure don’t feel like I’m an expert on the issue and I learned a tremendous amount from my co-presenters during the two days we spent together.

On November 15-19th, I attended the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting where I went to a session on health literacy and health communications; I was interested to see how another profession addressed the issue. What was interesting in contrasting this presentation with the teleconference was that the APHA panel did not get as down and dirty with the practical issues: what do you actually need to DO to: 1) recognize that the person with whom you are interacting may have literacy issues and, 2) address them in your communications with patients. This is an area in which I believe librarians excel: devising and utilizing techniques that work in our day-to-day practice. We’re also great at avoiding the reinvention of the wheel, through our ability to network and find information on what others have already done.

If you haven’t thought much about health literacy issues and would like to learn more, there’s another event coming up for folks in the West. The upcoming Joint Meeting of the Northern California and Nevada Medical Group (NCNMLG), the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona (MLGSCA), and the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association (PNC/MLA) will feature a day-long symposium on the topic. (For more information, see

The whole issue boils down to this: People with limited literacy skills have poorer health outcomes and have more trouble accessing the health care system. Medical librarians are addressing the problem in different ways, depending upon the setting in which we work. Academic librarians are training the next generation of health care practitioners; hospital librarians are training current practitioners; and consumer health librarians are providing understandable materials to patients.

Health literacy is more than just being able to read; it involves the whole spectrum of activities involved in becoming and staying healthy. One issue that I think is often overlooked is something I’ll call contextual literacy. I may be very health literate here in North America and possibly western Europe; but plunk me down in a rural Indian village with even a minor health problem and I would be totally out of my element. Most of us are comfortable and know what to expect in universities, libraries, hospitals, and clinics. Many people don't, and their anxiety at being in a totally alien setting impairs their coping abilities even more. Many times when we attempt outreach programs in non-English speaking communities we bring our own comfort bubble with us and don’t really see how those folks inhabit their world. We either expect them to come meet us in our world, or we bring our world to them. Then we wonder why they don’t use the nifty computers and things we gave them, when our tools may be almost as foreign to them as that Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy.

My challenge to anyone interested in doing any kind of literacy or other outreach project is to go put yourself in an environment in which you feel completely lost and alien. Someplace you’ve never been before and would never have a reason to go. That might be a neighborhood where a different language is spoken; the services of a religious faith very different from yours; a sporting event where you haven’t a clue what the rules are; or a bar with a clientele very different from you. (My first experience with dim sum in Chinatown comes to mind.) Try to figure out how to navigate and get your needs met. Experience what it feels like not to be in control, to be a minority for a change. Then come back to your own library and try to look at it with new eyes and see what aspects of it may be bewildering to someone who’s never been in one before. Use this understanding as you craft your personal response to the issue of health literacy.

Household Products Database:

New Information Service Provides Information On Health and Safety of Everyday Products by Colette Hochstein, D.M.D., MLS, National Library of Medicine, Division of Specialized Information Services

On August 1, 2003, the National Library of Medicine's Division of Specialized Information Services announced the release of a consumer's guide that provides easy-to-understand information on the potential health effects of more than 4,000 common household products.

Some household products contain substances that can pose health risks if they are ingested or inhaled, or if they come into contact with eyes and skin. The National Library of Medicine's (NLM) Household Products Database ( provides information on these substances and their potential health effects in consumer-friendly language.  For more technical information, users can launch a search for a product or ingredient from the product's page into NLM's TOXNET system (, a cluster of databases on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, and related areas.

Information in the database is provided to NLM under a license agreement and is taken from a variety of publicly available sources, including brand-specific labels and information provided by manufacturers and manufacturers' web sites. The database does not contain all brands and products. Initial selection of the products has been based on market share within each product category, and on shelf presence in retail stores in the Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco areas.  The Household Products Database has no pharmaceuticals, no generics, and no food items.

NLM has provided an important set of databases for toxicologists and other scientists for many years. The target audience of the Household Products Database, however, is both scientists and the general public. The database allows users to browse a product category, such as 'Pesticides' or 'Personal Care,' by alphabetical listing or by brand name.  Products can also be searched by type, manufacturer, product ingredient, or chemical name.

The Household Products Database lets users find out what's in the products under the kitchen sink, in the garage, in the bathroom, and on the laundry room shelf. It is designed to help answer questions such as:

ˇ           What chemicals are contained in specific brands and in what percentage?

ˇ           Which products contain specific chemicals?

ˇ           Who manufactures a specific brand? How can the manufacturer be contacted?

ˇ           What are the potential health effects (acute and chronic) of the ingredients in a specific brand?

ˇ           What other information is available about such chemicals in the toxicology-related databases of the National Library of Medicine?

An example of how the database can be used can be found with the homeowner who is trying to decide which algae-killing product to use in her swimming pool. She could select the "Landscape/Yard/Swimming Pool" category in Household Products and click on "algaecide." She could then choose several brands to examine for chemical content and possible health hazards.

The record for each product shows her the ingredients from the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Designed to provide workers and emergency personnel with the proper procedures for handling or working with a particular substance, these MSDS sheets are produced by the manufacturer of the product as required by federal law.

Planned next steps for the Household Products Database include adding new types of products, based primarily on user feedback, adding more brands in the existing 7 categories (Auto Products, Pesticides, Landscape/Yard, Personal Care, Home Maintenance, Hobbies, Home Inside), and keeping the existing information in the database current and accurate.

For information about this and other databases from NLM's Division of Specialized Information Services, please contact:

Health Librarian on the Street – Trends in Consumer Health Libraries

An unscientific, but hopefully enlightening look at issues of interest to consumer health librarians.

Sometimes we learn the most from the folks in the trenches, so when we talked to some CAPHIS members we asked them to tell us what trends they see in consumer health libraries. We heard from professionals who work in a variety of library settings: live online reference, academic, public and special. For the third installment of “Health Librarian on the Street” we are taking a look at various ways our profession is evolving.

Broadening consumer health library services through outreach and collaboration appear to be major trends in the provision of consumer health information services. Budgets are shrinking and patron expectations are changing.  As more people google their way to health information, they are beginning to realize that the Internet, often does not provide all, or much of the information they need. Palo Alto, Calif.-based library consultant Sonia Dorfman sees patrons rediscovering the physical library and finding extensive material that they can’t access at home. Some patrons are often amazed that books can be the best resource to find answers and many are beginning to differentiate between a free web search and the accessible material from subscription databases.  At Lousiana State University (LSU), family practice physicians are relying on librarians to provide them with information on subjects such as diabetes. The doctors then distribute the information to the community through satellite health centers. Librarian David Duggar, acknowledges that the interaction is not directly librarian to consumer. It is notable, however, that librarians are being utilized as purveyors of health information of value to the community at large. “The trend at LSU appears to be rare actual use of the medical library by the community,” Duggar said. “More often, librarians are working to provide computerized information resources for other organizations and public facilities. There is an increased effort for us to be involved in grants providing information indirectly to the community.”

For the past five years, LSU has been providing consumer health information to public libraries in the northern part of the state through a grant-funded program called Health e-links ( According to Duggar, the service is popular and utilized by patrons and librarians alike. However, it was expected that the public librarians would call on LSU for more detailed information, literature searches and other assistance. Those demands have not materialized. Users are satisfied with the web site alone.

Collaboration is one way to effectively provide service in times of restricted budgets. So says Roz Kutler, information services librarian at the Redwood City (CA) Public Library. “Public libraries are joining with special libraries to offer collaborative programming and selection strategies,” Kutler said. “That way, we can maximize the availability of current, relevant materials for all consumers. Fortunately, funders recognize the win-win nature of collaboration and proposals that build relationships between libraries and other health agencies are viewed favorably. The relationships we develop through collaboration in hard times will continue to benefit consumers when better times return.” 

Mary Beth Train, coordinator for the San Francisco Bay Area’s “Q & A Café,” concurs. “Clinic-library partnerships are invaluable,” she said. “An excellent example is the online ask-a-nurse service provided through the collaborative efforts of MetroHealth and the Cleveland Public Library.” Several years ago, “Q & A Café” offered live medical reference for the first time, collaborating with the Stanford Health Library.

Both Kutler and Train cite California’s statewide virtual reference project, newly renamed AskNow.Org (Formerly known as 24/7, AskNow includes Q & A Café in its network.) as an excellent example of a successful collaboration. Participating health science librarians around the state support this public library project by providing live online medical reference. Kutler notes that this service both helps publicize the expertise of consumer health librarians and provides incentives for public librarians to keep their online searching skills up-to-date.  

Libraries are finding creative, new ways to reach patrons directly, too. At Stanford University Hospital, the in-hospital library provides business services, such as Internet access, faxing and copying, gratis to patients and family members. A computer lab inside the LSU library allows students, staff, patients and family members to access information, prepare reports and presentations and print at no cost. Duggar notes that providing these non-traditional services is time consuming for librarians.

In all types of libraries, providers of medical information to consumers are enhancing their services and developing partnerships with other organizations.  It appears that creativity and innovation are fast becoming prerequisites for consumer health librarians.

News & Events

Stake Your Claim to Health Literacy

If you haven't already registered, please join us for "Stake Your Claim to Health Literacy," a day-long, regional symposium focusing on language and cultural access to health information.  It will be held on Wednesday, January 28, 2004, before the "2004 Gold Rush" Joint MLA Chapters Meeting in Sacramento, California.  Cost of the event is $35.  Please consider inviting others from your institution to join us!

Our goal is to provide you with practical tools and skills, and to help you identify specific actions you can take in support of clear communication and improving access to resources that are linguistically and culturally appropriate.

Speakers include keynote Dean Schillinger, M.D., national health literacy advocate and key contributor to the California Health Literacy Initiative; Joyce Backus of NLM; and Neil Rambo, chair of MLA's task force on health information literacy.  A panel of experts will tell you how to choose appropriate low literacy materials.  Breakout sessions will address Readability Tools; Regulations, Standards, and Financial Impact; Cultural Considerations; and Non-print Resources.

The Symposium is sponsored by the Pacific Southwest Regional Medical Library and the NCNMLG, MLGSCA, and PNC Chapters of the Medical Library Association.

For more information and to register, visit the Symposium webpage at:

Poor access to health information is a costly condition; our symposium offers you a cost-effective antidote!  We hope to see you there!


Publication Information


Consumer Connections (ISSN 1535-7821) is the newsletter of the Consumer and Patient Information Section of the Medical LibraryAssociation and is published quarterly.

Content for each issue is cumulated online at, primarily during the first two months of the quarter; the issue is considered complete at the end of the quarter. Notification of publication is sent quarterly via the CAPHIS listserv. Newsletter articles and book reviews are copyrighted; please contact the editor for reprint permission.


Please submit items for Consumer Connections during the third quarter for publication in the following quarter.

Submit by this newsletter For publication newsletter issue:
March April-June
June July-September
September October-December
December January-March

Please send submissions in electronic format to the editors:

Howard Fuller
E -mail:
Telephone: (650) 725-3308

Nancy Dickenson

E -mail:
Telephone: (650) 725-8100
FAX: (650) 725-1444


 Vol. 19 No 4 2003 
ISSN 1535-7821

Home About CAPHISManaging a CHISContact UsFor Health Consumers

CAPHIS, the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section, is a section of the Medical Library Association, an association of health information professionals with more than 5,000 individual and institution members. MLA fosters excellence in the professional achievement and leadership of health sciences library and information professionals to enhance the quality of health care, education, and research.

© 2003 Copyright CAPHIS